Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights: Join the effort

by Deborah Froese; April 26, 2017; Mennonite Church Canada
Winnipeg, Man

PFIR walker Kandace Boos is travelling with her 9-month-old daughter, Junia. An urban artist, Boos plans to document the journey in art. Photo supplied.

The Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights (PFIR) draws to a close on May 13, but even when the event is over, there are several ways to keep the objective of the initiative alive.

And what exactly is that objective? Ensuring that Indigenous peoples are guaranteed the same basic human rights enjoyed by others living in Canada – from houses and running water to education.

To this end, the Pilgrimage, a 600 km trek from Kitchener to Ottawa, Ont., is advocating for the adoption and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The Declaration provides the foundation for healing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Implementing it is one of the 94 Calls to Action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in their final report.

Led by Mennonite Church Canada and Christian Peacemaker Teams Indigenous Peoples Solidarity, the Pilgrimage supports Bill C-262, an act that would ensure the laws of Canada are in harmony with UNDRIP.

Over 50 people have registered to participate in all or part of the Pilgrimage, including Kandace Boos with her 9 month old daughter Junia, and 87-year-old Henry Neufeld.

So, what can you do if you haven’t registered for the walk?

“Pray and take local action,” suggests Steve Heinrichs, Mennonite Church Canada Director, Indigenous Relations and one of four Pilgrimage planners. Heinrichs and co-planners Erin Froese (Mennonite Church Canada volunteer), Chuck Wright and Kathy Moorhead Thiessen (Christian Peacemaker Teams) extend an invitation to follow the Pilgrimage via Facebook and Instagram, or to join the walkers as they trek through your neighbourhood. Check out the map outlining various stops along the route.

Donations to the Pilgrimage will help to cover costs such as a support vehicle and food, and the development of a video documentary about the event for educational purposes.

Understanding the importance of UNDRIP is key to healing and reconciliation, planners note.

“To appreciate something, you’ve got to know it, spend time with it,” says Heinrichs. “Every Canadian should read and memorize a few of the principles of UNDRIP. Indigenous peoples have called us to this. We can do it.”

“Reach out,” says Wright. “Seek to forge relationships with local Indigenous knowledge keepers and/or Indigenous rights struggles based on the principles of UNDRIP. This is a framework for reconciliation.”

Efforts to support the implementation of UNDRIP and the TRC’s Calls to Action must carry on past May 14 when the Pilgrimage draws to a close. You can continue to advocate by gaining awareness and sharing what you learn with others. Here are a few suggested measures from PFIR organizers:

  1. Read a summary of the TRC’s Final Report, including the 94 Calls to Action 
  2. Read Wrongs to Rights: How Churches can Engage the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a special edition of Mennonite Church Canada’s magazine, Intotemak. Two subsequent special editions are also available: Yours, Mine, Ours, and Quest for Respect.
  3. Check out Let Justice Roll: Implement the Declaration, a campaign and resource developed by KAIROS, Canadian churches working together for justice and peace. 
  4. Tell others of your congregation’s commitment to UNDRIP and the passage of Bill C-262 by sharing a group photo on Social Media.
  5. Please Sign the Petition for Bill C-262. Doing so will help encourage the government to adopt and implement the Declaration.

 “I can’t predict whether or not Bill C-262 will be adopted by Parliament or if it is, how it will be implemented and Canada held accountable,” says Wright. “But, we nonetheless need to hold our governments accountable to these ‘minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being and rights of the world’s Indigenous peoples.”

Photo Credits: 

Steve Heinrichs, Lyn Bishop